Road to the Dales: The Story of a Yorkshire Lad by Gervase Phinn

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Road to the Dales: The Story of a Yorkshire Lad by Gervase Phinn

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: Memoirs of the school inspector's Yorkshire childhood – pleasant, but not as impressive as his other books.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Michael Joseph
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0718149116

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As a teacher currently anticipating (I won't say looking forward to!) an OFSTED inspection, school inspectors aren't generally my favourite people. I'll make an exception for Gervase Phinn, though, as he's entertained me for many hours with his previous books on his time in the Dales doing the job. I was expecting his memoirs of his childhood to be equally entertaining – and feel slightly letdown, if I'm honest.

That's not to say that this is by any means a poor book – it's still comfortably above average in its field, Phinn's easy, gentle humour comes through as always, and he tells some good stories – although many of them seem to be recycled from previous books, with some quotes looking eerily familiar. However, my favourite part of those former books are the wonderful characters who inhabit them, such as Connie the cleaner, the ferocious Mrs Savage, and the children Gervase encounters as he inspects schools. Compared to the superb characterisation shown in the Dales series so far, I never felt that he did a particularly good job of describing his family or many of his teachers when he was young. They seemed rather flat, with perhaps the exception of Mr Firth, the teacher who first suggested he move into the profession himself, and Miss Greenhalgh, who taught him at primary school and clearly had a massive impact on him.

It's clear right from the foreword that Gervase had a happy, near-idyllic, childhood, and he states early on that this account of my early life is no misery memoir. Fair enough - but I found the endless nostalgia slightly off-putting in some parts, especially when he talked about all the horrific events since he grew up, like IRA bombings and the Bulger murder – yes, there have been some awful things happening over the past 20 years, but I think he's perhaps looking at the past with a slightly rose-tinted view.

Rereading this review, it seems far too critical at the moment of what is, essentially, an agreeable read. To balance out my criticisms, I feel I should state that there's lots of good points. I love the amount of poetry included at parts when Gervase is remembering things he, or other people he knew, recited – and will always be grateful that a verse he quoted from The Green Eye of the Yellow God led me to rediscover the poem, which used to be one of my favourites but I hadn't read for years. The anecdotes, while familiar in some cases, are still amusing, and I'm sure readers of a similar age to the author will enjoy reminiscing about many of the things mentioned. His love for his family also shines through, and his success despite failing his 11-plus is good to read about.

Actually, I think I'd arguably recommend this book more to people who haven't read his books before than to his established fan base. While I'm sure many people will devour anything he writes, I think some of his fans – like me – will find it a slight step down from his normal output, and perhaps starting here and moving onto the Dales series would be a better way to go than vice versa.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: For another enjoyable childhood memoir, I'd recommended Brian Keenan's I'll Tell Me Ma.

Buy Road to the Dales: The Story of a Yorkshire Lad by Gervase Phinn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Road to the Dales: The Story of a Yorkshire Lad by Gervase Phinn at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Road to the Dales: The Story of a Yorkshire Lad by Gervase Phinn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Road to the Dales: The Story of a Yorkshire Lad by Gervase Phinn at Amazon.com.


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